These days marked a special occasion in Germany: on February 5th the Berlin Wall, the barrier that divided the country and the world into two, a communist east and a democratic West, was gone exact the same amount of time as it stood: 28 years, two months, and 27 days. It’s a moment of reflection of the country’s recent past.
If you had asked people throughout the country a few days before the wall came down on November 9th in 1989 what they think about how long the separation of the country may endure, not only a few would have uttered: for a very long time to come. In an unfolding of events, however, the communist regime of the GDR, opened the wall (die Mauer) and thereby initiated the beginning of the end of the second German state, the communist part, occupied by Russia.
The Russian tanks remained in the barracks that November night while thousands of Berliners would move towards the wall that divided their hometown. There is heartbreaking footage of that night, GDR Trabi cars crossing into the West, people dancing on the Wall at Brandenburg Gate. The news made it around the globe in no time. Unforgettable is the scene when a man with a trumpet climbed the wall only to intonate the old German church hymn “Now Thank We All Our God”. This night sparked a lot of enthusiasm and communality amongst the people of Germany that had been separated since the end of the Second World War. The wall had been erected on August 13 in 1961 and was the symbol of Russian occupation.
By November 1989 Moscow had already loosened the tight grip on East Germany. Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl maintained a professional yet more and more friendly attitude towards each other. However, even as confrontation had eased, the belief in a full reunification was met with skepticism. German parties such as the left wing Social Democrats where of the opinion that a reunification would not take place in their generation’s lifetime.
The Western allies who won the war, the US-Americans, the British and the French all had their different opinion about a unified and therefore strong again Germany in the middle of Europe. The British and the French who would be suffering from the consequences of an already foreseeable economic mega power next door would take another stance than the Americans. Only the commitment of Germany to a unified Europe and the agreement to its new common currency in the making, the Euro, convinced the French and the British to concede the plans of a reunification.
And the Germans? They were a divided nation for 44 years. It wouldn’t be easy to come together after that long of a period. Culturally the two half had already been somewhat different before the war, the South being Roman Catholic in denomination, the North more Lutheran Protestant.
The dialects are different and the cultural hegemony, the Prussians in the North and the Bavarians in the South have had a tremendous influence on the different mentalities in the country. But then there was sport! Both parts, East and West alike, had and have the love for soccer! In 1990, the year where the formal treaty was signed that made the former GDR a part of the Federal Republic of Germany, Germany won the World Cup in Rome.
There is, again, plenty of footage that shows the Germans rallying in their Trabis but this time with the flag of the unified country, enjoying car parades in all parts of the country. Fear may have sparked that Germany may find itself back to a nationalist rhetoric especially with such a win, but the country didn’t. It has since then obtained a leadership role in international affairs and diplomacy that builds on the fact that the country seeks to be operating fully on the achievements of a soft power. The term, coined by Harvard professor Joseph Nye, illustrates what appeal a modern democracy has due to its sheer cultural power: the language, music, film. All factors that may lead to admiration by third parties.
The United States have been a great example of that soft power: its cinema, music and pop culture has found admirers all over the planet. These soft assets make a country popular and help its political class to assert its foreign policy agenda upon it. As South Korea has such an influence in the region when it comes to cinema, music, fashion and lifestyle, a readership there is certainly very capable of understanding the significance of being a soft power.
How about now, almost 30 years after the reunification? The Germans still struggle at points with different mindsets from the past. Especially for the people in the east of the country who not only had to endure the Communist dictatorship but before that the time of the nazi regime need their time to adjust to democracy. In surveys, however, amongst the young generation there are hardly any differences in attitude and value any more. This would be certainly be the case if you compare the cohorts of the elderly on both sides of the former iron curtain.
Sport has been a collective anger for positive identification. Hosting the World Cup in 2006, the unified Germany welcomed people from all parts of the world for a peaceful sport gathering. As a German who visits South Korea I certainly ask myself if the joint team of the North and the South for the Winter Olympics on the Korean Peninsula may also have the potential to spark a better understanding for one another. I can only say that in the case of the divided Germany so many that believed they will never see reunification day have been proven wrong by history.